Early in my reading days, I rarely paid attention to publishers, and even now, this is a topic better covered by fellow Lettered Ladies Stacy or Jessica, whose academic work focuses on printers, reprints, and the physical book. I recognized various imprints as a kid, of course — Little, Brown & Co., Random House, Penguin — but never did I feel the need to get a handle on publishing houses’ patterns or missions. These many years later, I have a much different perspective. In college, I came to have a love/hate relationship with Norton anthologies and editions. In grad school, I became deeply appreciative of Broadview Press. And in my Masters program at the Center for the Book at Iowa, I have learned about countless small presses run by one or two folks who have a very specific approach to and perspective about their printed matter and who create captivating, thoughtful, hand-made, limited-edition books. But in the wider world of trade books, one of the publishers whose mission I have taken notice of and whose biannual catalog I now pore over is Persephone Books, located in London. Given that my own work has tended to take up nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century women’s writing, their mission of printing “mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women” suits me perfectly.
I read one of their most popular reprints — Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s The Home-Maker –earlier this summer, and it was marvelous and stunning. Who out there has read this book?! It deserves a post of its own, so I’ll save the reasons why for another day, but suffice it to say that it is one of the best novels I have ever read. It had me in desperate, uncontrollable tears at the end for reasons that are at once tragic and uplifting.
Persephone Books has the sweetest shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street — a tiny street I struggled to find in London last summer. Their small storefront is filled with stacks upon stacks of their signature grey editions that come with period-appropriate endsheet patterns and with a matching bookmark to boot. And as luck would have it, the shop is a brief walk away from a fabulous little tea shop called Bea’s of Bloomsbury. If you happen to find yourself in London anytime soon with an afternoon to spare, treating yourself to a Persephone book and a pot of tea at Bea’s while you dive in is as close to heaven as I’ve ever come.
Do you know of Persephone Books already? And are there specific publishers whose missions you especially value?